Someday, I’d like to see a thriller in which there are no “fooled you!” fakeouts, no one that the audience thinks is dead turns out to be still alive, the characters are allowed to have actual personalities instead of just plot-driving backstories, and the bad guy doesn’t stop in the middle of all the murder and mayhem to explain what he’s been up to and why.
Until then, this movie will do.
It’s got a fairly strong premise, some fairly good shocks, moments of fairly decent suspense, and more-than-fairly gross-enough gore. What else do you need?
The story takes place on a deserted island, the final exam for a bunch of FBI trainees hoping to be selected for the elite “profiler” squad that tries to understand the minds of serial killers. When the trainees themselves start getting killed, they have to turn their profiling skills on each other before the next killing, helpfully scheduled in advance and announced by the killer with a clock set to the time the next person will die.
As Harris (Val Kilmer), the tough-as-granite instructor, points out, the good thing about serial killers is “they always give you another chance.” Each new murder provides more clues and a fuller picture of the pattern.
The final exam is on an island 50 miles off the coast. It is used by the Navy for Training exercises. A ghost-town-ish setting with dummies and hidden cameras has been set up with clues to a serial killer called “The Puppeteer.” Harris tells them that the island itself is like being inside the mind of a psychopath, feeling “isolated, alone, and forgotten.” It is also like being inside Harris’ head. As the one who set up the exercise and will decide the future of the candidates, he is the real puppeteer.
Then one of the trainees is killed, and then another. Clues seem to point to a pattern, but the suspects are the trainees themselves. Can they use what they have learned about profiling to figure out who the killer is while whoever the killer is uses that same training to hide from them?
The intriguing set-up, some sharp performances, and director Renny Harlin’s capable staging of action and suspense make this a passable thriller, if not a particularly memorable one.
Parents should know that this movie has extreme, intense, and graphic peril, suspense, and violence. [Spoiler alert] Characters are frozen, beheaded, strung up, tortured, shot, and injured and killed in a variety of other creative ways. There are graphic scenes of dead bodies of humans and animals. Characters use some strong language, drink (in a bar), and smoke. There is brief nudity (bare tush) in a shower scene, and there are some brief sexual references.
Families who see this movie should talk about how the FBI profilers really do investigate serial killings and about how we don’t confront our demons just once, but every single day. This report describes the resources they use. They may also want to learn more about Roanoke Island and the mystery of Croatoan.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Ten Little Indians and And Then There Were None, both based on Agatha Christie’s novel about a group of people on an island who are being killed off one at a time by someone who seems to know their secrets. They will also enjoy The Last of Sheila, another tricky mystery co-written by Stephen Sondheim.